The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Is Mike Lee The GOP's New Idea Man?

Conservatives Speak At Values Voters Summit In Washington

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) gave a speech this week to the Heritage Foundation’s anti-poverty forum that has the right pretty excited. In both his rhetoric—he called for a “new, bold, and heroic offensive in the War on Poverty”—and his policy proposals, Lee struck a markedly different tone than we’re used to hearing from Republicans like, say, Romney on the stump in 2012.

For example, while conservatives increasingly favor prison reform within their states, national Republican politicians don’t talk much about the issue on the federal level. This, then, was interesting to hear:

Another area ripe for reform is the federal government’s criminal justice and prison system. The simple fact is that in America today, we put too many people in prison for too long, with too little benefit to our society. If inmates are violent and threats to our communities, then we have a moral responsibility to keep them locked up. If they are not violent and pose no threat, however, if they have reformed and are ready to return to their families and communities, we have just as much moral duty to get them re-integrated into our nation’s networks of social and economic mobility.

I’m working on bipartisan legislation to reform federal sentencing and incarceration policies, following the transformative example of innovative states. If we are serious about access to opportunity for all, then we have to put “rehabilitation” back into the vocabulary of the federal prison system.

Whatever the merits of Lee’s specific solutions to prison abuse, stagnant wages, and the other issues facing America today, it’s always good to see intellectual ferment and new policy ideas, on either side of the isle. Consider the complex problems we’re currently facing: the changing nature of our economy; our aging population; the health care cost crisis; and growing diversity and pluralism in American society. We will need enormous creativity and innovation from both parties to address these and other challenges in the coming decades.

[Image of Mike Lee Courtesy of Getty]

Published on November 15, 2013 5:05 pm
  • Corlyss

    Lordy! I hope not!

  • Bruce

    These ideas by Lee are common sense and the types of things that Libertarians have been espousing for decades. Thank you Senator Lee for stating them. Generally, Repubs are the party of “law and order,” “throw away the key” and the drug war. These policies have done great damage to society. Most ideas from Dems move us further left. It would be good to see a movement away from doctrinaire policy positions.

    • Nick Bidler

      I agree, especially with regards to nonviolent offenses.